I feel like I should be writing "Hi mom and dad, having a great time at dance camp! Today I got a blue star in intermediate ribbon dancing."
Seriously, it’s been an amazing time so far at the Herrang International Dance Camp in Sweden. Herrang is quite a special place with a strong sense of connection to the roots of lindy hop and a training ground for future generations of lindy hoppers around the world.
Here’s a brief description of what the camp is like so far…
Herrang Dance Camp lasts for five weeks, from July 1 to August 4. Dancers typically come for at least a week to the camp, which is how the dance classes are structured here. Some diehards come for the entire five-weeks, often living in tents or group accommodations like some swing version of Deadheads.
I’m, well, not so dedicated. I’m here for just eight days, attending Week Four, which has the largest attendance of all the weeks. I’ve heard that there are more than 400 people here this week, which is just an estimate since some people don’t bother to register and just camp out, so it might be much higher.
Each day is structured around one hour and 20 minute classes, which take place in makeshift dance floors erected just for the camp. Everyone is tracked into their appropriate level, from beginner to intermediate to intermediate/advanced, advanced and "Advanced Plus." So you end up shuffling off to your classes with the same cohort of people, which is a nice way to meet people from various parts.
For those not taking classes, there is a small beach within walking distance, an ice-cream parlor, internet cafe, bar with a pool table, and myriad other ways that people devise to amuse themselves here. My friends Tomo and Spuds who both came for Week Four with me aren’t taking any classes and aren’t having any problems finding things to occupy their time during the day.
Every evening there is the camp Meeting at 9PM, which for many is the highlight of the day. One of the camp directors Lennert conducts the meetings with the driest of wits in a sort of talk show format, passing the mic around to various people in the room to make announcements, both informational and just entertaining. The meetings are punctuated with videos, performances and other amusing bits.
The action at the camp really starts after the meeting, when the DJs and live bands set up and start to play. There are three dance floors in the Folkets Hus, the main gathering point of the camp. There you find hundreds of dancers crammed on the floor, dancing their hearts out till the morning hours.
For a non-lindy hopper, it’s hard to describe how exciting it is to share a dance with a complete stranger, someone from another country who may not even speak your language, and just have a fabulous time together for the duration of a song. Sometimes, if it’s a really good dance, you dance to second song. But often you just move on to another dancer, because there are so many people to dance with and only so many hours in the night.
It’s a powerful, joyful, non-verbal experience that you share with another person. Frankie Manning calls it a three minute love affair.
There are few things in this world that make me happier.
So far the social dancing has been superb, with the exception of the over-crowding. I’ve had people warn me that you can’t even get on the dance floor until well after midnight, and I see that they are correct. It’s like a mosh pit on the main dance floor, with people crashing into each other and taking up every available space.
I like to think of myself as a responsible and respectful leader. My number one priority is making sure that the follower I’m dancing with has a good time, while enjoying myself in the process. So I take care to ensure that she doesn’t get stepped on or collide into another dancer or worse.
Other dancers here (and elsewhere) seem, well, a bit less responsible. Which is a bit aggravating, since people at Herrang should really know better.
So I’m chilling out until 1AM, when the dance floor starts to thin out. Some people dance until 8AM, I hear tell. I don’t have that kind of fortitude, and I’ve got classes in the morning that I’d like to be awake for.
Anyway, I should sign off for now. Got to get some food in me before dancing the night away.